Embattled attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh, 54, secured a procedural victory in his murder case as a judge in South Carolina granted a discovery request in a brief order issued Monday afternoon.
The once-powerful lawyer now stands accused of murdering his wife and youngest son. As he readies for trial, his defense asked a Colleton County court to issue a motion to compel the government to release evidence related to an expert witness consulted by the prosecution.
That expert, Tom Bevel, is the president of Bevel, Gardner and Associates Inc., which describes itself as “a forensic education and consulting company.” He is a 27-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Police Department, and he finished his law enforcement career as the commander of the homicide, robbery, missing persons units.
“Defendant seeks disclosure of communications of Mr. Bevel with the State in this matter including draft reports and presentations, case files, notes, and Photoshop files,” the order notes.
The disbarred Hampton County lawyer asked Judge Clifton Newman to force the state to release the evidence in question in late November. Oral arguments over the request were held earlier this month.
According to Charleston, South Carolina-based NBC affiliate WCBD, Murdaugh’s defense team is ultimately hoping to have certain blood spatter evidence ruled inadmissible – and claims that the state both altered photographs and destroyed key exculpatory evidence.
That alleged exculpatory evidence is the shirt that the defendant was wearing on the night of the slayings. According to the defense, the state’s original tests found no traces of human blood on the shirt, which was apparently destroyed by chemical testing agents.
The disgraced attorney’s slow-motion fall from grace has made national news ever since he claimed to have found his wife Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and son Paul Murdaugh, 22 shot to death last summer on his family’s property, the 1,770-acre hunting lodge known to locals as “Moselle.” Murdaugh says any blood on his shirt was from touching the bodies, as he made the gruesome discovery.
Attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin wrote that Bevel’s first report “emphatically said the shirt contained no stains consistent with back spatter resulting from a gunshot.”
After being visited in person by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, however, Bevel issued new findings that claimed “the shirt has over 100 stains consistent with back spatter from a gunshot,” according to the defense filing. After that, Murdaugh’s team said they asked for the shirt back to conduct their own tests on it, but the state said they could not oblige because it had been “destroyed.”
Notably, law enforcement did bring the shirt to Bevel at his request during that visit, but the expert was unable to obtain any information from it because of the state it was in. His second analysis relied on the same photos he used the first time around – but using computer image-altering software, WCBD reported. In his second report, Bevel wrote, he was “able to filter the colors of the shirt using Photoshop focusing on red (blood) and blue (LCV) and white of the shirt.”
“I don’t see any other mechanism to get so many misting stains onto his shirt other than the spatter created from the shotgun wounding,” Bevel wrote in his revised analysis of the allegedly tell-tale t-shirt.
Murdaugh’s defense has outright accused the state of fabricating evidence over Bevel’s shifting opinion.
“The murder scene was gruesome; there was a large amount of blood on and around their bodies which transferred onto Mr. Murdaugh’s hands and clothing when he frantically checked them for signs of life,” the defense wrote in their late November filing. “But the State needs blood spatter evidence because it is exceedingly difficult to explain how Mr. Murdaugh could have murdered Paul with multiple 12-gauge shotgun blasts at pointblank range in a small closet without getting at least some blood spattered on his shirt. After all, blood was spattered all over the closet door, walls and ceiling. So instead of accepting an honest exculpatory report, the State changed it to a false inculpatory report.”
Judge Newman’s Monday order requires the state to produce:
(1) Copies of all written or recorded communications to and from Mr. Bevel, regardless of mode of transmission.
(2) Copies of all electronic or physical documents sent to and received from Mr. Bevel, regardless of transmission.
(3) All Photoshop Document files of Mr. Bevel, or of any member, employee, or agent of Bevel, Garner & Associates, LLC, related to photographs of the white T-shirt Defendant was wearing the night his wife and son were murdered.
(4) A copy of the case file of Bevel as the term is defined in the Manual of the United States Department of Justice, 9-5.003 Criminal Discovery Involving Forensic Evidence and Experts.
The state was not opposed to the discovery request, the court noted.
Also on Monday, Murdaugh’s defense moved to have certain financial information and allegations, all of which are related to various financial improprieties the defendant is also alleged to have committed, be excluded as evidence during the murder trial, according to documents obtained by Charleston CBS affiliate WCSC.
The prosecution claims those financial allegations are central to their coverup theory of motive. In addition to two counts of murder in the first degree, and associated weapons charges, Murdaugh also stands accused of myriad financial crimes including insurance fraud, property fraud, money laundering, and computer fraud. Prosecutors say the killings were part of an elaborate effort to keep those financial issues from ever seeing the light of day.
Murdaugh’s murder trial is currently slated to begin on Jan. 23, 2022.
[image via screengrab/YouTube]
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